A well-stocked prepper home pharmacy ensures that you will not need to run out to the store to purchase a medication when you are feeling under the weather or when it may not be safe to venture out. Consult your medical provider to determine exactly what medications you should keep in your prepper medicine cabinet.
What are the best medications to include in a well-stocked prepper home pharmacy? The best drugs to stock in your prepper medicine cabinet include a combination of over-the-counter and prescription meds. You should include pain relievers, antihistamines, anti-diarrheal, antiemetics, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and allergy medications. Be sure to include any prescription drugs that you are taking.
How Much Medication Should I Store for Emergencies?
When it comes to storing medications for emergencies it is impossible to come up with a “one-size-fits-all” answer to determine the right amount to store. Consider your worst case scenario and calculate the number of meds required to adequately take care of your needs, then stock a little extra to share.
While many medications are still good after the expiration date on the bottle, fresh is ideal. Therefore it is wise to only purchase drugs in reasonable quantities. Overstocking will likely result in waste and may not be the best use of your money.
We personally re-stock our supplies every couple of years and dispose of the old medication to ensure that we always have a fresh supply. We stock our little prepper pharmacy at a “worst-case-scenario-rate” and are very grateful they have not been needed.
It is reasonable to stock enough over-the-counter medications to last a year or two. Prescription medications are much more difficult to obtain and you may be lucky to have one or two months as a backup supply.
Plan for the Unique Needs of Family Members
Before stocking your prepper medicine cabinet, sit down and carefully evaluate the unique needs of each member of your family. Consider the following questions.
- Does anyone in your family have allergies to any medications?
- Do you need to store infant or child formulations of drugs?
- Does anyone have special needs due to a chronic medical condition?
- Does anyone suffer from seasonal allergies?
- Does anyone have an issue with pain management?
Stock appropriately for the individuals who will be using the medications. Remember your supply is for your everyday needs, not just for an emergency.
Ideal Storage Conditions for Medication
Generally, medication will store best in a cool, dry, dark location in the original unopened packaging. The bathroom medicine cabinet is not the best place to store your meds due to the heat and humidity. Store all medication out of reach of children.
Drug addiction is a real concern in our society. Some addicts are easy to identify but others you may never suspect. Consider storing prescription medication in a locked safe or well-hidden location to protect both the drug seeker as well as your critical medications.
Actual Shelf-Life of Medication
It is always best to keep a stock of fresh medications. However, it may be important to understand the actual shelf life in the event you need to make a decision to use older medications during a crisis.
Cynthia Koelker, MD, author of Armageddon Medicine, wrote an outstanding reference article for the Journal of Civil Defense entitled, Expired Medications: What You Need to Know. She quotes The Medical Letter, Vol. 44, Issue 1142, October 28, 2002 which states “Many drugs stored under reasonable conditions retain 90% of their potency for at least 5 years after the expiration date on the label, and sometimes much longer.”
We should expect a gradual loss in potency over time. If the appearance and color of the pills have not changed the medication is likely safe to consume. Storage temperature and packaging will significantly affect the actual shelf life. Liquid preparations are not as stable as tablets and capsules and generally have a shorter, useable shelf-life.
Best Over-the-Counter Medications to Stockpile
It is easy and relatively inexpensive to stock your prepper medicine cabinet with useful over-the-counter medications. Carefully consider the needs of your family members and include the meds that you regularly use. This is the list of medications that we keep in our stash. Yours may be a bit different.
Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
Ibuprofen is effective in treating both pain and inflammation. It is commonly used to relieve headaches, earaches, sore throats, sinus pain, muscle strains, menstrual cramps, arthritis pain, and back pain. It is an effective fever reducer.
Ibuprofen used in combination with acetaminophen (Tylenol), it is highly effective in relieving severe pain. Our son recently had his wisdom teeth removed and opted to control the pain with ibuprofen and acetaminophen at the recommendation of the dentist to avoid taking an addictive narcotic. It worked surprisingly well.
Naproxen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It is effective in relieving pain, fever, and inflammation, similar to ibuprofen, but can last 12 hours. We stock naproxen because some of our family members prefer it.
Aspirin (Bayer, Ecotrin)
Aspirin is used to reduce fever, control pain and to reduce swelling and inflammation. It is used also used as a blood thinner in low doses to prevent heart attacks, stroke, and blood clots. Aspirin should not be given to children under 12 who have a fever due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome.
Acetaminophen is the only OTC pain-reliever that is not an anti-inflammatory drug. It will not irritate the stomach like ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen. It is effective for both pain relief and fever reduction. We stock acetaminophen for family members that can’t take ibuprofen.
Diphenhydramine is an inexpensive antihistamine. It is commonly used to relieve symptoms from respiratory infections, hay fever, and allergies. It is also helpful for treating hives, itching, nausea, anxiety, and insomnia.
Loperamide is used to control diarrhea and relieve intestinal cramping. Diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration which makes this medication a good choice to keep in stock.
Polyethylene Glycol 3350 (MiraLAX)
Polyethylene Glycol 3350 is an osmotic laxative and is used as a stool softener and for relief of constipation. The stress and dietary changes resulting from a disaster often result in stomach and bowels issues.
Glycerin suppositories can provide relief for constipation within minutes. It is a good back up to have in the event that the polyethylene does not work.
Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant that is effective at temporarily relieving congestion of upper and lower respiratory tract. It is helpful for relieving symptoms associated with the common cold, flu, hay fever, allergies, and bronchitis.
This is an over-the-counter medication but you can only get products containing pseudoephedrine at the pharmacy. Quantities are strictly limited and you must present a photo ID. It is an ingredient used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine. You will need to stock up on this medication over time.
Fexofenadine Hydrochloride (Allegra)
Fexofenadine is an antihistamine and is commonly used to relieve allergy symptoms. It is often taken in combination with pseudoephedrine for increased relief of allergy symptoms.
Meclizine (Bonine, Dramamine)
Meclizine is an antiemetic drug. It relieves nausea, vomiting, motion sickness, and vertigo-like dizziness. It is helpful for anxiety and insomnia in some people.
In late 2019, Zantac (ranitidine) was found to have a contaminant at levels slightly higher than naturally found in foods. It is NDMA, a nitrosamine compound that has been associated with some cancers. All Zantac was pulled from shelves. Click here for the FDA announcement.
The risk is probably very low but medical professionals are using Pepcid (famotidine) in place of the Zantac (ranitidine). It can be used for the treatment of heartburn, ulcers, reflux and may help relieve hives.
Hydrocortisone Cream 1%
Hydrocortisone cream comes in handy for treating inflamed and/or itchy rashes such as eczema, poison ivy, diaper rash, and minor genital irritations.
Bacitracin Ointment (Baciguent)
Bacitracin ointment is a first aid antibiotic ointment used to treat abrasions, lacerations, insect bites, or stings. It will not treat fungus or virus infections. It can be used to treat superficial bacterial skin infections such as a mildly infected wound or impetigo.
Clotrimazole is a topical antifungal medication. It may be used to treat fungal and yeast infections such as female yeast infections, athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm, diaper rash, and skinfold irritations.
How to Stockpile Prescription Medications
It is possible that your supply of prescription medications may be interrupted when disaster strikes. If you are taking medications due to a chronic medical condition, it would be wise to plan in advance to take care of your needs.
The best option is to take the necessary steps to improve your health with the ultimate goal of reducing your dependence on prescription medications. In the meantime, build a supply with enough medication to see you through a crisis.
Methods for Stocking Up
Work with your medical provider and build a backup supply of critical prescription medications. Explain to him or her the reason you are concerned and see what options may be open to you. Be honest and always follow his or her recommendations. Make sure that you keep your supply rotated.
Medical providers will not give you any type of controlled substances (drugs that cause mental or physical dependence) for “emergency preparedness.” Don’t even bother asking. In this post, we are talking about medications for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.
Doctors are frequently given free samples of medications from the drug companies. If he or she provides you with a few samples, make sure that you keep filling your prescription on schedule. You can easily get a backup supply of 30-60 days this way.
Insurance companies will usually refill your prescription every 25 days. If you faithfully pick up your new prescription at 25 days, by the end of the year you will have a 60-day back up supply of your critical medications. If you use a mail-order pharmacy you may be able to get a 90 day supply of your medication. Be sure to refill it as early as allowable.
You can also ask your health care provider to give you a prescription for an extra month or two that you pay for in cash. This is one way you may be able to get around the limits enforced by your health insurance.
Stockpiling Antibiotics for Disaster Preparedness
The decision to store antibiotics should be carefully thought through. Antibiotics can only be legally used under the direction of a health care provider licensed to dispense the drug. They will not do anything to help a viral infection, but they can save lives.
We strongly encourage you not to use antibiotics except under the direction of a qualified health care provider. The antibiotics you stockpile are only for use when competent medical care is not available and you do not have other safe options available to you.
An illness must be accurately diagnosed and the correct antibiotic given in order for it to help the condition. Antibiotics have side effects which need to be carefully weighed before taking. The safest source for obtaining antibiotics is from your health care provider.
Prepper Antibiotics List
Cynthia Koelker, MD wrote an article for the Journal of Civil Defense entitled Seven Antibiotics to Stockpile and Why. In this article, she lists her top 3 antibiotics to store for a crisis where medical care is unavailable. The best antibiotics to store for emergency preparedness are Cephalexin, Ciprofloxacin, and Metronidazole. These 3 antibiotics will cover 90% of the common bacterial infections.
Cephalexin treats most of the same bacteria that amoxicillin does, but it is stronger against Staph aureus. It is commonly used to treat upper respiratory infections, skin infections, ear infections, and urinary tract infections.
Ciprofloxacin is used for bacterial infections. It may be prescribed to treat anthrax, typhoid fever, abdominal infections, urinary tract infections, prostate infections, bone infections, pneumonia, and bronchitis.
Metronidazole treats very specific infections and is used to treat parasitic infections like Giardia in the small intestine, amebic dysentery, and amebic liver abscesses. It will also treat infections of the stomach, liver, skin, brain, respiratory tract, and vagina.
Cynthia J. Koelker, MD blogs at Armageddon Medicine and states that using these three alone or in combination would cover around 90% of the infections physicians commonly encounter, as well as several less-likely threats (including anthrax and C. diff).
Specialty Drugs for Specific Risks
Depending on what your specific risk factors, you may have unique events that you are preparing for which require specialty drugs.
Potassium Iodide (KI)
Potassium iodide tablets are taken during a nuclear event to prevent the thyroid gland from absorbing radiation. This is a must-have for preppers who are preparing to survive a nuclear event. It has a long shelf life and should remain stable for many years if stored in a cool, dry, dark location in the original container.
Learn more about potassium iodide at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Oseltamvir is an anti-viral medication and requires a prescription. It is used to treat or prevent influenza. You may want to consider purchasing osetlamvir if you are prepping for a pandemic.
Zanamivir is an anti-viral powder. It is inhaled orally. Zanamivir is used to both treat or prevent the flu and requires a prescription to purchase.
Consult your healthcare provider to assess the benefits, costs, and risks of stocking these anti-viral medications. They may or may not be right for you.
What Antibiotics Should I Stockpile?
Top 10 List of Common Infections Treated with Antibiotics
- Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
- Otitis Media (Ear Infection)
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s)
- Skin or Soft Tissue Infection
- Streptococcal Pharyngitis (Strep Throat)
- Traveler’s diarrhea
- Upper Respiratory Tract Infection
- Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Top 10 List of Generic Antibiotics
- sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim
- amoxicillin and clavulanate
Top 10 List of Brand Name Antibiotics
- Flagyl, Flagyl ER
- Bactrim, Bactrim DS
Top 10 List of Antibiotic Classes (Types of Antibiotics)
Most antibiotics fall into their individual antibiotic classes. An antibiotic class is a grouping of different drugs that have similar chemical and pharmacologic properties. Their chemical structures may look comparable, and drugs within the same class may kill the same or related bacteria.
However, it is important not to use an antibiotic for an infection unless your doctor specifically prescribes it, even if it's in the same class as another drug you were previously prescribed. Antibiotics are specific for the kind of bacteria they kill. Plus, you would need a full treatment regimen to effectively cure your infection, so don't use or give away leftover antibiotics.
Another name for this class is the "beta-lactam" antibiotics, referring to their structural formula. The penicillin class contains five groups of antibiotics: aminopenicillins, antipseudomonal penicillins, beta-lactamase inhibitors, natural penicillins, and the penicillinase resistant penicillins.
Common antibiotics in the penicillin class include:
|Generic||Brand Name Examples|
|amoxicillin and clavulanate||Augmentin, Augmentin ES-600|
|penicillin V potassium||Penicillin VK|
Certain penicillinase-resistant penicillins (such as oxacillin or dicloxacillin) are inherently resistant to certain beta-lactamase enzymes by themselves. Others, for example, amoxicillin or ampicillin have greater antibacterial activity when they are combined with a beta-lactamase inhibitor like clavulanate, sulbactam, or tazobactam.
Tetracyclines are broad-spectrum against many bacteria and treat conditions such as acne, urinary tract infections (UTIs), intestinal tract infections, eye infections, sexually transmitted diseases, periodontitis (gum disease), and other bacterial infections. The tetracycline class contains drugs such as:
|Generic||Brand Name Examples|
|Doryx, Doxy 100, Monodox, Oracea, Vibramycin|
|minocycline||Amzeeq, Dynacin, Minocin, Minolira, Solodyn, Ximino, Zilxi|
There are five generations of cephalosporins, with increasing expanded coverage across the class to include gram-negative infections. Newer generations with updated structures are developed to allow wider coverage of certain bacteria. Cephalosporins are bactericidal (kill bacteria) and work in a similar way as the penicillins.
Cephalosporins treat many types of infections, including strep throat, ear infections, urinary tract infections, skin infections, lung infections, and meningitis. Common medications in this class include:
|Generic||Brand Name Examples||Generation|
|ceftaroline||Teflaro||5th (next) generation|
|ceftazidime||Avycaz, Fortaz, Tazicef||3rd generation|
|cefuroxime||Ceftin, Zinacef||2nd generation|
The fifth generation (or next generation) cephalosporin known as ceftaroline (Teflaro) is active against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Avycaz contains the the beta-lactamase inhibitor avibactam.
The fluoroquinolones, also known as the quinolones, are a synthetic, bactericidal antibacterial class with a broad-spectrum of activity used in adults (not children). Due to risk of multiple serious side effects, the FDA has advised that they are not suitable for common infections such as sinusitis, bronchitis, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections. They should only be considered when treatment with other, less toxic antibiotics, has failed. Ask your doctor about the warnings associated with this class of drug before you take it.
The FDA has issued several strong warnings about this class due to potential disabling side effects. Learn More: FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA updates warnings for oral and injectable fluoroquinolone antibiotics due to disabling side effects
Common drugs in the fluoroquinolone class include:
|Generic||Brand Name Examples|
|ciprofloxacin||Cipro, Cipro XR|
Several fluoroquinolones are also available in drop form to treat eye or ear infections.
This class has activity against gram-positive aerobes and anaerobes (bacteria that can live without oxygen), as well as some gram-negative anaerobes.
The lincomycin derivatives may be used to treat serious infections like pelvic inflammatory disease, intra-abdominal infections, lower respiratory tract infections, and bone and joint infections. Some forms are also used topically on the skin to treat acne. A single-dose vaginal cream is also available to treat certain bacterial vaginal infections (bacterial vaginosis). These drugs include:
|Generic||Brand Name Examples|
|clindamycin||Cleocin, Cleocin T, Clindets, Clindesse, Evoclin|
The macrolides can be use to treat community-acquired pneumonia, pertussis (whooping cough), or for uncomplicated skin infections, among other susceptible infections. Ketolides are a newer generation of antibiotic developed to overcome macrolide bacterial resistance. Frequently prescribed macrolides are:
|Generic||Brand Name Examples|
|erythromycin||E.E.S., Ery-Tab, Eryc|
Sulfonamides are effective against some gram-positive and many gram-negative bacteria, but resistance is widespread. Uses for sulfonamides include urinary tract infections (UTIs), treatment or prevention of pneumocystis pneumonia, or ear infections (otitis media). Familiar names include:
|Generic||Brand Name Examples|
|sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim|
Members of this group may be used for treating methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections, complicated skin infections, C. difficile-associated diarrhea, and enterococcal infections such as endocarditis which are resistant to beta-lactams and other antibiotics. Common drug names include:
|Generic||Brand Name Examples|
Aminoglycosides inhibit bacterial synthesis by binding to the 30S ribosome and act rapidly as bactericidal antibiotics (killing the bacteria). These drugs are usually given intravenously (in a vein through a needle); inhaled and ophthalmic (eye) dose forms are also available. Examples in this class are:
|Generic||Brand Name Examples|
|tobramycin||Aktob, Kitabis Pak, TOBI, Tobrex|
These injectable beta-lactam antibiotics have a wide spectrum of bacteria-killing power and may be used for moderate to life-threatening bacterial infections like stomach infections, pneumonias, kidney infections, multidrug-resistant hospital-acquired infections and many other types of serious bacterial illnesses. They are often saved for more serious infections or used as "last-line" agents to help prevent resistance. Members of this class include:
|Generic||Brand Name Examples|
|imipenem and cilastatin||Primaxin, Recarbrio|
Note: Recarbrio is a combination medicine that contains imipenem, cilastatin and the beta-lactamse inhibitor relebactam. Vabomere is a combination product that contains meropenem and the beta-lactamse inhibitor vaborbactam.
Are There Any Over-the-Counter Antibiotics?
Over-the-counter (OTC) oral antibiotics are not approved in the U.S. A bacterial infection is best treated with a prescription antibiotic that is specific for the type of bacteria causing the infection. Using a specific antibiotic will increase the chances that the infection is cured and help to prevent antibiotic resistance. In addition, a lab culture may need to be performed to pinpoint the bacteria and to help select the best antibiotic. Taking the wrong antibiotic -- or not enough -- may worsen the infection and prevent the antibiotic from working the next time.
There are a few over-the-counter topical antibiotics that can be used on the skin. Some products treat or prevent minor cuts, scrapes or burns on the skin that may get infected with bacteria. These are available in creams, ointments, and even sprays.
Common OTC topical antibiotics:
- Neosporin (bacitracin, neomycin, polymyxin B)
- Polysporin (bacitracin, polymyxin B)
- Triple antibiotic, generic (bacitracin, neomycin, polymyxin B)
- Neosporin + Pain Relief Ointment (bacitracin, neomycin, polymyxin B, pramoxine)
There are some OTC antibacterials for treating acne, too. They contain the antibacterial benzoyl peroxide, which also has mild drying effect for acne. Many products are found on the pharmacy shelves as gels, lotions, solutions, foams, cleaning pads, and even facial scrubs.
Antibiotic Shortages: A Serious Safety Concern
Antibiotic Shortages in the US
Shortages of antibiotics in the U.S. has dominated the headlines in recent years. In fact, according to experts, antibiotics are being removed from the market six times faster than new ones are being produced. Between 2001 and 2013, there were shortages of 148 antibiotics. This is of great concern to the FDA and the healthcare community as many of these antibiotics were the sole drugs to treat certain antibiotic-resistant infections or for certain infectious conditions in children. Many life-threatening infections can be picked up from being in the hospital (nosocomial infection), outpatient surgery or doctor’s office.
In a 2015 study done at George Washington University, nearly half the shortages were for antibiotics needed to treat severe infections, including Clostridium difficile, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, among others. MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that infects some 78,000 people a year and can be deadly, according to the CDC.
Even common therapies, like aztreonam used to treat serious infections in patients allergic to penicillin, and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, used to treat pneumocystis pneumonia, were in short supply with no alternate manufacturers. Manufacturing site problems, shortage of raw material, low commercial incentive, and lack of approved manufacturers all can lead to drug shortages. Researchers contend that shortages will continue and that the U.S. government and FDA need to be involved to ensure adequate supplies of life-saving antibiotics.
However, FDA officials are working closely with industry, health care providers and patients. to take action against drug shortages. Although manufacturers are not required to notify the FDA of drug shortages, when they do, the FDA can work with other firms to determine if the drug can be made. The FDA has the ability to expedite inspections and approvals to help lessen the impact of a drug shortage, including antibiotics.
Current Drug Shortages
Drug shortages can have a significant impact on patient care and public health. Drugs in short supply often include sterile injectables and potentially life-saving oncology (cancer) treatments. Besides the lack of effective drug treatment, many other areas of medical care can be impacted, including medical procedure delays, treatment protocol delays, rates of medication errors, patient health outcomes, and cost. Notice from manufacturers to the FDA about impending or current drug shortages allows the FDA to work with the manufacturers to prevent a drastic shortage.
Updated May 31, 2022.
Now you have some basic information to help you get started building your everyday stockpile of important medications.
- Go through all of the medications that you currently have and dispose of outdated drugs.
- Create a detailed list of all of the medications that your family may need and reasonable amounts for each. Be sure to include special formulations for babies and elderly members.
- Consult your health care provider to discuss any special needs of family members. Explore the possibility of obtaining additional prescription medications for chronic conditions or stocking antibiotics for emergencies.
- Decide where to store your medications. You may keep opened bottles in a medicine cabinet, or with first aid supplies, and the backup supplies in a cool, dry, dark, secure location.
- Purchase a fresh supply of over-the-counter medications at your local pharmacy or online here.
How much medicine should I purchase?
Overstocking medications will waste money. Calculate the amount of each medication you believe you might need over a 1–2 year period for each person in your group. It’s a good idea to purchase that amount plus an extra package. Hold the 1–2 year amount in your medical stockpile, being certain to rotate out the oldest medicines first, and replace with a new purchase as you do this.
For example, if you decide that you will need six bottles of Benadryl, you should purchase the six bottles for your stockpile, using a seventh bottle for current needs. Once you run out of your currently-in-use bottle of Benadryl, pull out the oldest bottle from your stockpile and begin to use it. At the same time, you should purchase a NEW bottle to place in your stockpile to make up for the bottle that you removed. This way, over time, your bottles will all have different expiration dates and will stay fresh longer in an emergency. Remember: Always use the oldest medicine first!
If you don’t use your medicines within the expired time noted on the container, go ahead and dispose of that medicine and replace with new, fresh bottles. Always try to keep bottles on hand that have several months until they are expired. This may seem like a waste, but it shouldn’t happen often, and it will keep your supply fresh and ready for emergencies.
A well-stocked medicine cabinet can come in handy and prevent last-minute trips to the store when you are not feeling well. When disaster strikes and supplies are limited, your stash of medications can be a lifesaver.